NEW ROSS – It’s official – the province’s largest wind farm is coming to the Chester district.
Municipal council voted on March 14 to enter into a development agreement that will see 34 wind turbines built in the area between New Russell and Vaughn as part of the South Canoe Wind Farm.
The decision was made at what was scheduled to be the first of three deliberation meetings of council. Instead just one meeting was needed as council voted 5-1 (with New Ross-area Councillor Tina Connors being the lone nay vote) in favour of proceeding.
“There was a lot of doubt as to how long it would take,” Warden Allen Webber said. “That’s why we set up three different meetings. I can’t say I actually anticipated we would come to a conclusion today but I think it became evident about midway through the morning it was possible we would come to a decision.”
The door is now open for developers Minas Basin Pulp and Power and Oxford Frozen Foods, partnered with Nova Scotia Power, to begin on-site work.
Mr. Webber said the deliberations were not meant to determine whether council wanted wind turbines in the municipality, but whether the proposal made by the developing partners met all the requirements of the municipal policies and bylaws.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there, and rightly so, because people who don’t deal with this daily wouldn’t have any reason to completely understand,” he said. “But council has already established a policy where wind farms are allowed in this municipality subject to development agreement. What [municipal solicitor] Sam [Lamey] was trying to clarify to people is there were many things brought up at the public hearing, many questions and many concerns, but our fundamental role at this point in time is to determine whether or not this development, as proposed, is consistent with our strategy and bylaw.
“And I think when you look at it like that a lot of the other questions, even though they are there, they don’t have the same weight anymore. Ultimately, at the end of the day it’s not whether you like the development or not, it’s a question of whether or not it is consistent with policy and bylaws. For the most part council determined that it was.”
Emery Peters, a local resident and member of Friends of South Canoe, said he was shocked council could make such an important decision after just one deliberation session.
“I thought there would be a lot more discussion and I thought councillors would be a lot more intelligent to realize they don’t have the information and they need help to make the decision,” he said. “Instead they just allowed it to pass through, with the exception of Tina Connors, who at least has done enough work to know she’s uncomfortable. The others don’t seem to have really listened at all.”
For Mr. Peters and the people he represents, it isn’t the fact council approved a wind farm, it was they did so with so many unknowns, especially as far as health is concerned.
“It’s the potentials that are in there,” he said. “When you look around the world, every single turbine site has people who are getting sick. So obviously they can’t all be liars and fakers. There is obviously something going on. There’s been no real studies. Now we’re getting some experts starting to do some studies and saying there is something to this and there is some reason to be concerned, we just don’t know enough yet.”
The one concession Mr. Peters said he would like to see, and this was supported by Ms Connors, is a larger setback. The development agreement with the municipality states all turbines must be at least 1.2 kilometres away from the nearest dwelling.
“My personal opinion is three to five kilometres, that seems to be what the science is telling us,” he said. “So, that’s something, at least it’s a concession and shows genuine concern. Unfortunately, that’s not reality.”
Council did consider the health concerns, Mr. Webber said, but in the end said it could find no definitive information stating the turbines, especially with such a large setback, warranted further action.
“We had some ability to deal with that,” Mr. Webber said. “But fundamentally we are not in the business, nor have the legislative authority, to determine public health issues. If there are known issues and there are known mitigation techniques available to us we have the ability to attempt to mitigate it. Not to eliminate it, just to mitigate it.
“That speaks to the setback requirements. I think what council felt is it’s the level of other levels of government to make those determinations. The setbacks that were proposed were significantly larger than those in the rest of the province. That’s an attempt to mitigate them.”
John Woods, vice-president of Energy Development with Minas Basin Pulp and Power, said his company is looking forward to getting started.
“This is the beginning of a long-term commitment,” he said. “We look forward to working with the Chester council and with the community in the coming months and throughout the over 20-year lifespan of the project.”
A media release from Minas Basin refers to an independent survey completed by Corporate Research Associates stating the community support for this project at 87 per cent, with six per cent being against the development.
“We are pleased to be able to build a project with such overwhelming local support,” Mr. Woods said.
The wind farm, once completed, would deliver enough wind energy to power 32,000 homes. In addition to adding $650,000 a year in taxes for the municipality, South Canoe will create about 100 jobs during construction, four or five permanent jobs, and indirect economic spinoffs for local businesses.
“We are invested in the long-term success of this project – one that benefits the communities involved and all Nova Scotians,” said Rick Cecchetto, chief financial officer with Bragg Group, parent company of Oxford Frozen Foods.
Mr. Webber said the fact representatives from Minas Basin were on hand to answer questions at the meeting played a large role in the decision being made after one deliberation meeting.
“I think a lot of what helped to move the discussion forward this morning was the developer anticipated some of the questions council had and they were there and prepared to provide answers,” he said. “I had originally thought we might develop a list of questions and forward them on and then get responses which would take us at least into the second day.”
That would have been the preference of Mr. Peters.
“I am just frustrated,” he said. “I don’t see how a council can sit there after the expression of concern they heard. As far as I can tell it’s been totally disregarded by council.”
Mr. Peters and the 35 or so people who attended the meeting are now left with few, if any, options to fight the development.
“There is another possibility and it’s something we need to talk about,” Mr. Peters said. “It’s if we want to take this to an appeal of the utility review board. It’s something we will be discussing to see what our options are, if it’s a viable option. A lot of us are doing this on our own time.”
Mr. Peters again admitted he’s not against the wind farm, he just would prefer a larger setback and more research.
The warden himself said he campaigned on a platform that included alternate forms of energy renewal.
“Fundamentally I’m in favour of wind energy development,” he said. “We’re doing it ourselves and it makes financial sense, it’s environmentally sound in my view. The biggest challenge facing not only this municipality but the global community at the moment is global warming, which is primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions. I think anything you do to mitigate that is the right thing to do.”
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